The beginning of any year is always a busy time for me. It’s a busy time for everyone, of course, with the essentially back-to-back holidays of Christmas and New Years, but is made more so for me by the fact that my birthday, January 28th, follows hot on the heels of New Years day. As such, there’s a decent amount of transition that occurs in my life during the first month of the year, from the entire world turning one year older to my own aging and the assorted extra privileges (especially as I turn 21 this year) this can entail. Invariably, this means that I spend a lot of time thinking about both global and personal transitions during the month of January, and some of the the traditions we attach to them.
Oftentimes, it’s tempting to think that these traditions are somewhat arbitrary. After all, nothing noticeably changes in the world around us or in ourselves just because a certain day on the calendar has been reached. The world doesn’t suddenly feel more futuristic on January 1st, and I've yet to feel any older on my birthday than I did the day before. There’s no reason we can’t make resolutions to better our lives on any day of the year, and oftentimes the moments we feel like we’re truly growing up have practically nothing to do with our birthdays. Development is a gradual process punctuated by wildly spontaneous occurrences, impossible to capture by marking a single transitional day.
However, perhaps the purpose of these holidays isn’t to mark great changes, but to simply remind us that they happen. Perhaps we celebrate birthdays not because on that day we grow up more than we do on any other, but because that day makes us remember that we are, so gradually that we usually don't notice it, growing up. We make resolutions on New Year’s Eve not because we can’t make them on any other day, but because the changing of the year reminds us that everything changes, and even we can change for the better. These holidays aren’t about noticing drastic changes as much as they are about recognizing and celebrating these changes themselves.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that exactly what all holidays are about? The actual occurrences they celebrate have long since past, and the days are now less about commemorating a very specific even than they are about recognizing the things that we value. When we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we’re celebrating a legacy of equal rights and powerful leadership just as much as the life of a single person. Similarly, when people celebrate anniversaries they’re celebrating enduring love far more than they are the day of a wedding. These holidays, in the end, celebrate something far larger than the event from which they were conceived, which is exactly what makes them so worth celebrating.